Toronto Maple Leafs: The Star Hockey Player That Never Was

John McFarland #45 of the Florida Panthers sits in the penalty box against the Tampa Bay Lightning on September 14, 2011 at the Iceplex in Coral Springs, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
John McFarland #45 of the Florida Panthers sits in the penalty box against the Tampa Bay Lightning on September 14, 2011 at the Iceplex in Coral Springs, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

A huge Toronto Maple Leafs fan looked like he was on pace to be the next big name in the game.

Growing up wishing to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, there was a time where many believed he would have opportunity to make his dream come true.

Sadly, things didn’t go as planned.

In 2005, scouts in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) were abuzz about current Leafs captain, John Tavares. At the time, while playing AAA minor hockey for the Toronto Marlboros in the GTHL, he was far better than the rest of his cohort.

One year later, the same was true about a young Steven Stamkos who played for the Markham Waxers in the OMHA. Ryan O’Reilly kept the hype going in 2007.

It appeared that a generational talent was coming through the ranks for a fourth year in a row. That would be John McFarland.

The Star Hockey Player That Never Was

Both Tavares and Stamkos went on to become NHL superstars. O’Reilly was no slouch, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2019 Playoffs MVP when he and the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup. McFarland was unable to achieve anything close to those heights despite being believed to be on equal footing as the trio that preceded him.

McFarland played his minor hockey in the GTHL for the Toronto Junior Canadiens. He was a step ahead of his teammates Chase Balisy, who played eight games in the NHL, Devante Smith-Pelly, who played 395 career NHL games, and Tyler Toffoli, who has played 733 games. (Note: all statistics are from Elite Prospect.)

In 2005, Tavares was the first-overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection. In 2006, it was Stamkos. In 2007, O’Reilly went first. It was McFarland’s turn to be the first-overall pick of the OHL draft in 2008. He went ahead of all three of his teammates who later played in the NHL.

Three of of McFarland’s teammates were drafted in order into OHL. The first to come off the board was defenseman Ryan O’Connor. He went sixth. Seventh was Toffoli and eighth was Smith-Pelly. Tyler Seguin, followed the Jr. Canadiens crew being selected ninth that year. Balisy ended up being drafted 80th overall. An interesting note is that in the 15th and final round of that 2008 OHL draft, the Soo Greyhounds picked Bryan Rust who just finished his 10th season with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

While both Tavares and Stamkos followed up their time in Major Junior being drafted first-overall in the NHL, O’Reilly and McFarland dropped down the ranking, both going 33rd overall.

Despite his potential and hype, the winger from Richmond Hill, Ontario never realized his ultimate goal of becoming a star player in the NHL. Not only didn’t he become a notable name in the league, but he played less than 30 total minutes there.

McFarland ended up making it to the NHL with the Florida Panthers in 2015-16. He played an average of 9:55 minutes in three games of action. He didn’t record a point and had terrible possession metrics. In his short time in the league, he built a Corsi rating of 31.1, which was 16 points worse relative to his team.

The following year, McFarland went to Finland to play for SaiPa in Liiga. He followed that up with some time playing in Switzerland and returning to North America to play in the ECHL and AHL.

At just 26-years-old, McFarland decided to hang up his skates and retire. He wasn’t done with hockey though. The now 31-year-old started a skills development company called Fundamental Hockey and took a job with the Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL. Beginning as a scout, he was promoted to be one of the team’s assistant coaches.

Next. Update on the Sons of Leafs Legend Doug Gilmour. dark

Unfortunately, McFarland didn’t get to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, he still gets to make a living in the hockey world and play a hand in developing NHL players who may one day make it onto the Leafs.